1. Through an inner voice. This inner voice is the voice of all three persons of the trinity of God, because they are all one. When we hear the voice of one person we are hearing, or at least sensing the voice of the other two as well. The voice of the Father comes to us as the voice of one that cares and loves and listens. The Father speaks not so much in words but through His actions of love. And when we listen we hear His heart beat of compassion. The Son speaks through the Word. He is the Logos—the expression of God. The Son reveals to us the Father’s heart and His will in words, words that have come to us in the Bible. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Without the Holy Spirit we would not hear or know the Father or the Son. When we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit it is the message of Jesus and of the Father, which He (the Holy Spirit) sends to us.
Sometimes in the Bible the author indicates that a certain person in the trinity is speaking. For example, when Paul was saved on his way to Damascus, it was recorded that the person of Jesus spoke to Him: “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting…’” (Acts 9:5).
Another time when Philip, a deacon of the early church, was walking down a desert road on his way to Gaza, he saw an Ethiopian eunuch sitting in his chariot reading from the scriptures. And the Bible says, “And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot’” (Acts 8:29).
Now in the first case God spoke directly through Jesus and in the second case God spoke through the Holy Spirit. But in both cases weren’t the other persons of the trinity there, and weren’t they also speaking? Yes, one may be named as the spokesman, but they were all speaking.
The other day I ran across an interesting passage—in Acts 16:6-7. Here, when Paul was on his second missionary journey and was passing through the Phrygian and the Galatian region, he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to Speak the Word in Asia. But then (in verse 7) it says, “And when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” Now the question is, were there two separate persons who spoke, the Holy Spirit in the first verse and the Spirit of Jesus in the next, or were they both speaking in both verses? Well, as I said before, I think they were both speaking in both instances as well as the Father, but one was named as the spokesman in each case. We must also understand that since the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, that term “Spirit of Jesus” is really one of the names of the Holy Spirit. But since it is the Spirit of Jesus we know that Jesus is also there. Isn’t it wonderful to know that Jesus, that same Jesus that walked this earth and died for our sins, is ever present with us and is still speaking to us through the Holy Spirit?
Now since we as Christians have the mind of Christ—which means that we have a renewed, Christ-like mind (1 Corinthians 2:16)—that inner voice of God comes to us through our renewed mind. That is, our renewed mind is capable of knowing (or reading) His mind; we, through our renewed mind, hear the voice of His mind.
Hence, when an idea comes to us, and we are walking in the will of God, that idea in our mind comes to us really from God’s mind. But if we do not trust Him then the thoughts we have are not of God but are of our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6). And so, whether we are aware of it or not, when we walk with the Lord, whenever we think a thought, those thoughts have a vital connection to the mind of Christ. I am not saying that our renewed mind is totally or comprehensively the mind of Christ (that could never be), but it is capable of knowing His mind, and understanding His will.
Sometimes, especially when we tend to resist that first idea that God is putting into our mind to do something, or to go somewhere, or to say something, that inner voice in our mind tends to overlap into our emotions. And we may feel a tug or a nudge or a certain feeling in our stomach. Well, those tugs and nudges are from the Lord, trying to get our attention.
Bill Hybels, in his book, Too Busy Not to Pray, tells of a time when he was driving out of his church parking lot, and he received what he thought was a leading from the Lord to offer a women whom he had just passed by some assistance. Well, as Hybels told the story, he said, “I kept driving, rationalizing my disobedience to the little leading from God. But the Holy Spirit persisted. By the time I had reached the entrance sign, I felt so restless in my spirit that I said, ‘I can’t put up with this anymore’”
And so, Bill Hybels turned his car around and picked up the lady. Well, as it turned out, the women really didn’t need any special help, but Hybels got to know the women and discovered that she was being led of the Lord to apply for an administrative job at his church. She soon became Bill’s full time administrative assistant. Reflecting back on this incident, Hybels realized that without this women’s unique combination of skills and gifts, he would not have been able to do what God had called him to do.
So we see that it is so important to obey the inner voice of the Lord. If we do not we will miss His will for us.
As we discuss the remaining four ways that God speaks to us, it is important for us to know that in all of these ways, and in any other way that God speaks to us, we will also always hear that inner voice of God in our mind. That is, when we follow the leading of scripture, of prayer, of circumstances, or of wise council God will always be speaking to us in our thoughts.
2. Through the Bible. The Bible is the record of God’s complete revelation to us. (Since it is complete, He will not give us any other teaching. For this reason, if there is any teaching or voice that adds to, takes away from, or is contrary to the Bible, that teaching is not true and is definitely not God’s Word to us.)
Here is what you must do to hear God’s voice through the Bible. First, establish a regular habit of storing His Word in your mind. I would suggest beginning in the morning. The morning for me is the best time to dig into the Word. Let that studied Word be your meditation and delight throughout the day.
As you study the Bible and learn God’s principles, as you dig deep for the true meaning of each verse, and seek to find the intended themes of each passage, God will speak to you and give you a personal word—a word of encouragement, direction, or warning. It is in my experience that He will keep directing your focus on that particular passage—until you have come to its intended application, that is, until you learn everything He has been showing you and are obedient to everything He is telling you.
Now the Greek word that denotes the Bible as a whole and is God’s revelation to us is logos. But when God speaks to us personally and directly from the Bible, whether He directs your attention to one verse or to a phrase, that personal message to you, that Word of God to you in the Greek is rehma. This rehma is described in Hebrews 4:12 as living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. It is living and active because it is the voice of the living God speaking to you. He is able to discern your thoughts and intentions, and He knows all about your sins and problems and needs.
As Hebrews 4:13 states, God sees you as you really are. You are open and lay bare to His eyes. But He is not only our judge, He is a sympathetic High Priest who is a wonderful counselor and helper. He will speak to you and tell you what you need to know and what He wants you to do. Heed His voice and draw near to Him with confidence, and you will receive His mercy and grace (Heb. 4:16).
As you receive that marvelous and penetrating Word (rehma) in the morning or evening (or whenever you dig into the Word), you will no doubt encounter various trials and have some pressing needs. But take heart, God is always with you. If you put your trust in Him throughout the day He will speak to you and comfort you. Moreover, God will bring to your remembrance a personal word from His Word just at the time when you need it.
For example, if you are facing a trial He may say to you, “I’m here, and I know your pain, and I will help you through this trial.” And then the Holy Spirit may cause you to remember James 1:2-4, a verse that you have memorized. That passage will at that instant become Jesus’ personal word to you, and He will say to you, “[your name], count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
3. Through prayer. Prayer is not just you talking to God; it is God talking to you. So prayer includes listening. According to Henry Blackaby, in his book, Experiencing God, “…What God says in prayer is far more important than what you say…Prayer is designed more to adjust you to God than to adjust God to you…You need to pray because of what God wants to do in and through your praying.”
Blackaby gives us an eight-point sequence of what happens in prayer. I have revised it to a three-fold sequence and have provided the following comments.
First, God draws you to prayer. He will either draw you to prayer because He knows you need cleansing or help, or He may also summon you to intercede for another who needs help. This drawing may come conveniently at your appointed morning or evening prayer time, or it will come at a time when you least expect Him to call you. Sometimes in the middle of a task you will be burdened to stop, bow your head and pray. This drawing may be as a gentle whisper or nudge to remind you to pray, or it may be as an irresistible urge to stop everything, run to His throne, and bow down, even fall down on your face in tears. For whatever purpose or combination of purposes, when God wants you to pray He will draw you.
Second, the Holy Spirit reveals God’s will to you. The Holy Spirit knows the will of God. As you pray He will show you the Father’s will. Often times, when we begin to pray we pray the wrong things, but then as we dwell in prayer for a few minutes, meditating on His Word and waiting on Him in humble submission, He shows us the Father’s heart and puts on our lips all the correct words of prayer.
Third, you adjust your life to the truth. As you quietly listen to the Father’s heart in prayer, the last step is to plan to do whatever it is He wants you to do…and do it.
4. Through circumstances. When we listen for God’s voice through our circumstances we are not necessarily listening for a message in words, rather we are watching and observing to see how God is working around us. We are looking to see what people are going through and what we are going through, so that we can make conclusions as to how God is working and how He wants us to join Him.
But how do we make these conclusions? Well, first of all, we must get out from under the cloud of our circumstances and get
into the Word and into prayer so that we can see those circumstances from God’s perspective, and also so that we can see God for who He is and for what He is trying to accomplish in the world. We should ask Him to show us why things are happening the way they are, and at the same time have faith that eventually all our circumstances will work out for good (Ro. 8:28)—that God will even use them as His voice to lead us this way or that way.
5. Through other believers. When you think that God has spoken to you about a certain thing through the Word, through prayer, and through your circumstances, when a brother or sister comes along and gives you that same message, this is a great confirmation of His leading. If you are a Spirit-filled believer, this is normally how you should view another’s words of counsel—as confirmation, to confirm that word that God has already given you. Too often we just accept solely what a believer says and go with it as the final Word of God. But we should not immediately accept it unless God has already been speaking to us along these same lines.
In some cases, however, especially in the case of a new believer, when God speaks to that person through another person it may be the first time they have heard Him speak. In that case it is wise for them to search the scriptures to see if what was declared as God’s Word can be confirmed as true (Acts 17:11). Then, it is always wise to pray about it as well; and if God gives His peace you may be assured that it is God’s Word to you.